Monday, February 20, 2012

On Missions, Part 1

The religious circle I grew up in is very "evangelical", in the door-knocking, bus-running, gospel-tract-passing sense.  They call it "soul-winning", and it's supposed to be "the heart of God."

At Bible College, we were required to go "soul-winning" (i.e. knocking on doors and inviting people to church) for at least three hours each week.  We were also required to "witness", or "give the Gospel" (i.e. go through our salesman's pitch verbally with somebody we didn't know, off-campus, in an attempt to get them to convertsay the prayer at the end of it) at least once a week. The rationale behind the requirements was that since we were training for ministerial positions, we should get used to doing this. It is seen as the primary work of any church staff member, the pastor included. Not only that, it is also supposed to be the primary work of any Christian, based on Matthew 28:18-20.

We even had a whole semester's course on how to best go about this, including a great deal of work on honing the approach, polishing the pitch, and driving the point(s) home in a effective way. One of our assignments was to do an audio recording, play-acted with one of our roommates, of us "giving the Gospel" to somebody, almost exactly like the video linked from the page above.

We were taught that even if someone wasn't interested at that moment, we ought to kindly and enthusiastically invite them to church, and follow up on them to ensure that they did, if they would permit it. We even ran bus routes to come and get those who didn't have transportation. (Side note: this was largely utilized by parents to send their kids off to what amounted — for the parents — to free day care on Sundays, and — for the kids — to free candy and socialization at the expense of having to put up with the constant sales pressure coming from the teacher and the workers.)

Even when I was in the middle of it all, doing my required duties, I still thought that there was something a bit "off" about the whole thing. I did my best to fit in, but on several occasions (increasingly frequent as I matured), I expressed my concerns with the whole endeavor, particularly the blatant emotional manipulation of the children into saying "the prayer" and being baptized.

Another concern was that, with a few notable exceptions, there was little no training or discipleship, what I would now call catechism. Certainly, we followed up with visitors and those who had said the prayer, but unless someone decided to come to church on a regular basis, there was absolutely no discipleship for them. Furthermore, the "discipleship" they received when coming to church was mere training in how to be a soul-winner, and how to order their life so that bad things, for the most part, would (supposedly) not happen to them. There was a litany of rules, both written and unwritten, very few if any of which had to do with traditional Christian askesis, or "displine", in the athletic sense, and even fewer of which had to do with love.

"Missions" in those circles is more of the same, except full-time. The missionary goes to some strange land, and starts a church comprised of his family, supported by the financial gifts of the churches in the homeland. He then invites people to the church, and teaches them to go get more people, etc. For the most "fundamental" of these "missionaries", there is little room for culture.

For example, some of the more understanding missionaries will work with the culture, and not insist on changes of attire, haircut, etc., unless the attire of the local culture is unsuitable to the Christian life (i.e. mostly naked or some such). On the other hand, the more rigid missionaries might insist that the men of the new church wear white Oxford shirts and ties with black or khaki dress pants, because that is their idea of what a good Christian ought to look like.

Whether in America, or in a foreign land, there is little concern for the nation itself, beyond the desire to "win every soul for Christ", that is, to make every citizen a fully reproduced version of the missionary. The methodology used is simply to go start a church, frequently accompanied by some sort of Bible Institute, and work toward making these grow enough to send out native workers to start other churches. Wash, rinse, and repeat "until the whole world knows", as the song goes.

In my experience, in the presentations given by the missionaries when they are States-side gathering support from the various churches, there is much talk about "winning [insert target country here] for Christ, but there is little in the way of actual plans to so, beyond what I outlined above.

(Here's part 2:

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